Friday, January 1, 2010

Heritage Photos of the Week

The following photo was taken about 1917 on the front steps of the home of Tilman and Matilda (Dunavan) Wilcoxen in the area of Pierce, in Wharton County, Texas. Tilman and Matilda, my great-grandparents, are sitting in the center and are flanked by all their children.

Also seated are daughters Emma Gertrude (left) and Minnie Jane (right). Standing behind are (left to right) Elsie Golden "Goldie", Tilman Leo, my grandfather Arthur John, Nina Ellen (pronounced Nine-uh), Anderson Drexel "Bill", Mildred Ann and Orten Bryan. The family moved to Wharton County from Perrysville, Indiana, in March 1910. The story passed down in the family is that Tilman suffered from rhuematism and it was hoped that the warmer weather of Texas would improve his condition. Tilman and Matilda were the only ones of their families to make the move to Texas. Their parents and most of their brothers and sisters remained in the Danville, Illinois/Perrysville, Indiana area.

A few years ago I became aware that there was a portrait of Tilman and Matilda in the possession of my uncle Donald, who lives in Missouri. I wrote to ask him to take a photo of the picture. At the time I had no photos at all of the couple. He sent word that all attempts to photograph the portrait had resulted badly, due to the bubble glass throwing glares. They were attempting to figure out a way to get the photo copied.

Shortly afterward, a descendant of my grandfather's brother Orten made contact with me and had a few photos to share, including the one above.

Skip ahead a few years and my cousin sent word that her father and she had decided to transfer possession of the coveted portrait to me, the rabid family historian. It just had to be determined how to transport the photo from Missouri to Texas.

A couple of weeks ago I found in my voicemail an amazing message. A cousin connection on my aunt's side of the family had been to Missouri for a visit at Thanksgiving and had personally escorted the precious heirloom to Texas. Yesterday I made the 90-mile trip to receive one of the best Christmas presents I've ever had. I knew them immediately because it appears that the photo dates to the same day that the family group photo was taken.

It must have been quite the occasion that day. I also have separate photos of Tilman with his sons and Matilda with her daughters. I can just imagine the long session with the photographer as the entire family was photographed in various poses. Only a few short years later, daughter Gertrude would die in 1923. Son Orten was headed into the service. Son Bill would marry and move to California. The other brothers and sisters would marry and start their own families. On this day in 1917 or 1918, the Tilman Wilcoxen family was complete.

I cannot tell you how happy I am to add to my collection the official portrait of the couple themselves on that day. I heard it recently described by another family historian that the rare photo of an ancestor is the Holy Grail for genealogists. Yesterday I acquired one of those Holy Grails. Many thanks to my Uncle Donald, to my Aunt Syble and her nephew and his wife, and to my Cousin Amanda for their generosity.